When I first came across the illustrations of Full of Freckles on Instagram (@full_of_freckles_illustrations), I had a smile on my face – stretching ear-to-ear. The art was endearing. It had a certain magic to it. And there was something else too — it was dainty. And that was such an alluring contrast. Because the subjects portrayed in the illustrations were all confident, happy, beauteous (and mostly naked) plus-sized figures.
“I am a plus size lady myself,” says thirty-year-old Sanne, the artist behind these illustrations, via email. “I have experienced all the negative feelings that come with that…people are judging you with prejudice, and I was was judging myself for not fitting into the box.”
Ask any woman who doesn’t “fit” the boxes created by society and she will tell you that at some stage in life, she becomes “sick” of all boxes that she’s expected to fit in and the labels given to her. Ultimately, something gives in. That was the case with Sanne too.
“There was some resistance in me to stop hating myself and forcing myself into a box,” she says. “And one day I was just drawing, not thinking about what I wanted to draw, and a very cheerful large lady came out of my pencil.” And Sanne fell in love with her. She felt so good about that illustration that Sanne made more of them. “And I never stopped after that,” she says. That was in November 2015
A native of Belgium, Sanne lives in an ancient, almost fairytale kinda city, called Ghent. (Look it up, people). She is a freelance illustrator who like her ilk is trying to make ends meet. But like all freelancers, she believes in her passion.
When Sanne began sharing her illustrations on Instagram around April 2016, it struck a chord. Today she has around 12,000 followers, and her fan base is growing at a rapid pace. “But these are just numbers,” Sanne says. “What keeps me going are the comments, re-sharing and private messages of people telling their stories; about how I made their day with my art; how it has made them smile. The responses were always about happiness and people being thankful for my drawings. And that happiness is the reason why I continue to do this and will keep on doing it,” Sanne says.
Full of Freckles is not just an Instagram account. It has a clear mission. Spreading the message of happiness and acceptance. Sanne’s illustrations are about plus-size people being happy and carefree, not thinking about being fat and sad. “I want to encourage people to find acceptance in having a different body than the ones that cater to a ‘standard beauty mould’. I believe, and I have noticed this for myself as well, that you are actively influenced by media. More than we realise. And we have to seek change actively. Plus-size people can eat, dance, play, enjoy live and exist – happily!”
Under the Full of Freckles banner, Sanne sells posters, cards and stickers of her illustrations. She also does commissioned portraits of plus-sized women (like the two friends in the above pic).
Sanne has been drawing as long as she can remember. It wasn’t easy. It involved years of trying, failing and enduring. “That sounds like it is a burden, but if something is your biggest joy, and dream it doesn’t feel like a burden,” she says.
She studied illustration and graphic design in college. Though she’s an admirer of artists like Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas, they were never truly an inspiration for her drawings. But what she “loved” about these great masters was their ability to take the ordinary life, look at it differently in their art. “Thus making it unique. And that’s something I love doing in my illustrations sometimes,” Sanne says.
However, Sanne’s work has been inspired and influenced by Fiep Westendorp (1916-2004), a renowned Dutch illustrator. “Her work is timeless,” says Sanne who even sports a Fiep-inspired-tattoo. “Her illustrations are naughty and cheerful. I am always amazed by the shapes that she uses. I love the crooked lines and making things look flat but still so real.” You can see Fiep’s influence in Sanne’s drawings in the form of upturned button noses.
Drawing is what this artist turns to when she is restless. “It makes me feel happy and calm,” she says. If she doesn’t draw for more than a week, she gets grumpy. When she’s angry, she splashes lots of paint on a large canvas. “I can loose myself in the colours and shapes, and it calms me down,” she explains.
However, no matter how hard she tries, she can never draw a sad illustration. “I just want my illustrations to ooze happiness.”
Sanne’s illustrations have her signature style – round shapes. But there was a time when she fought hard not to draw the round shapes. “Those were the times when I wasn’t feeling good in my skin and trying diets and exercise only to loose weight, which isn’t a good reason if that is the only reason. Once I found peace with my body the way I drew also loosened up, and I wasn’t forcing my hand anymore.”
And if your wondering why Sanne’s passion (and business) is called Full of Freckles, it’s because she has a lot of freckles. And she’s always found them beautiful. “Which is quite surprising, because I did question everything else of my body,” she says. “I even hate wearing too much make-up because that can cover my freckles up. I always loved them and saw them as part of my personality. They made my appearance friendly, playful and cute. And that is what my drawings are about as well. I also think that to accept your body; you need to begin by loving small bits and pieces of it.” And for Sanne, it began with the freckles.